Your Daily Green Bit

Reducing holiday driving emissions (and guilt)

Like the annual migration of salmon from the sea to their freshwater birthplaces, the winter holidays signal the journey of humans back to the homestead. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of long distance trips taken by Americans increases 23% during Christmas, and 91% of those trips are taken by car. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that car travel is responsible for one quarter of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, but since the planet’s wrath is nothing compared to the mother-in-law who doesn’t get to see her spawn on holidays, here are some tips for greening your winter migration. 

Tip 1: Purchase carbon offsets to balance your car-ma (and give them to the relative you’re visiting!) We covered carbon offsets for flight travel in a previous blog, but these companies also sell carbon offsets for car travel.

Tip 2: Before you drive, figure out your personal carbon footprint and that of your impending car trip.  The EPA has this handy personal emissions calculator that tells you how much carbon you emit, broken down by category (trash, electricity, oil, etc.). This information allows you to determine where in your life you can reduce carbon emissions, whether by recycling trash or reducing electricity use, to make up for those extra miles you drive to family gatherings.

Tip 3: Maintain your car. Basic car maintenance will improve your fuel economy no matter what kind of car you have. The Department of Energy says that a clean air filter improves fuel economy by 10%. Inflated tires improve economy by three percent and a well-tuned engine increases economy by four percent.

Tip 4: Drive harmoniously. The DoE cautions that “aggressive driving,” such as rapid acceleration and deceleration, can lower your gas mileage by 33%. Observing the speed limit and being patient with traffic conditions will benefit the planet and your blood pressure.

Tip 5: Ditch the excess baggage in the trunk and on the roof. For every 100 pounds your car hauls, you lose 2% of your gas mileage. Another reason to go light on the gifts this year! After all, togetherness is what really matters….yes?

Tip 6: Use overdrive gear and cruise control if you have them. If not, keep an even pressure on the accelerator. The Alliance to Save Energy says that overdrive reduces engine speed, and cruise control increases fuel efficiency by maintaining a steady speed.

For more tips, see the above websites plus EcoDrivingUSA.

Happy holidays and happy trails!

by Rachel Brown

Feeling crabby? ' Tis the season (but hold the mercury)

Dungeness Crab season opened in November on the West Coast and goes till June. The sweet, white-meat crustacean is rated a sustainable Best Choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBAYAQ) Seafood Watch program. Sing Hallelujah for guilt-free seafood! And unlike many fish (such as bluefin tuna, bluefish, swordfish, blue crab) Dungeness crab is low in mercury. So if you're craving or feeling ono for crab, as the Hawaiians say, go for it! If you're a locavore, and live on the East Coast, Atlantic Dungeness Crab, or Jonah Crab, is a good alternative, MBAYAQ says. See their crab Fact Sheet for more species.

About mercury:  It should be avoided by everyone, of course, but most of all by pregnant women and children. A neurotoxin, mercury can cause behavioral and learning problems, as well as loss of memory and, last but not least, hair. Enough, already! 

But there's another reason we're feeling crabby: The EWG and Washington Post  recently uncovered some shenanigans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is seeking to amend its advice that women and children should limit how much fish they eat. The current advisory, issued jointly by FDA and the EPA, recommends that they consume no more than 12 oz.of fish a week, and that they avoid high-mercury seafood. But now, FDA wants the White House to approve a revision which advises that we all eat more seafood, while removing the mercury warnings. EPA and EWG are fighting this....we'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, stay on course with healthy, eco-responsible fish choices by downloading MBAYAQ's national and regional pocket guides here. And see the "Magnificent Seven" recipes, by Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, for a traditional and sustainable Christmas Eve fish feast in the current issue of Plenty , on newsstands now. When this year's Dungeness season got a slow start, with a disappointing dearth of creatures in the traps, consumers feared an environmental disaster might be behind it. Happily, in this case, California biologists assure that it's just a natural population fluctuation. Thankfully, groups like MBAYAQ are constantly monitoring species, and adjusting their seafood recommendations at least twice a year. So stay in touch.

Gift books: John Muir's green legacy

As a new Administration rings in a new green era, it befits us to remember John Muir, without whom we'd have precious little Nature left. But first, a little holiday rant:  Yes, Kindle e-books have sold out, but you can still have gorgeous illustrated volumes you'd never read in e-form, anyway. The New York Times has run its list of books  "worth buying a coffee table for." Here's Plenty's green-minded short list of titles from that endangered species, independent publishers (five conglomerates in the U.S. control 80% of book sales.)

*A peak experience:  Forget that  "Jeremiah Johnson" DVD and buy your mountain man or woman Above All:  Mount Whitney & California's Highest Peaks,(Heyday Books, $35), with stunning landscape photographs by David Stark Wilson, text by Steve Roper and a foreword by Ken Brower, a son of David Brower, first executive director of the Sierra Club and the subject of John McPhee's  Encounters with the Archdruid. In the Sierra, per Brower, a tent is for sissies. Hang a tarp, baby! Or let this book loft you to the 15 peaks higher than 14,000 feet in California's Range of Light .

The panoramas are mostly of the moonscape above the treeline, where the horizon draws a long prism, as if seen from an airplane. Jagged red and ochre peaks lean back out of glacier-scooped valleys. There are long lakes like fjords, round lakes like black thumbprints, a high green meadow under cloudless skies, fields of purple lupine or dry red grass, and no signs of human habitation in all that vast space. "The many places, resembles rows of crocodile teeth," Roper writes of "these 15 sky-bending mountains" whose names include Shasta, Whitney, and, of course, Muir.

*The beauty of small things: Muir, the Glasgow immigrant who hiked the length and breadth of the Sierra and co-founded the Sierra cCub, stopped off at many places before he found his true love, Yosemite. About the Wisconsin Dells, he wrote:  "The wallls are fringed and painted most divinely with the bright green polypodium and asplenium and allisum and mosses and liverworts and gray lichens and here and there a clump of flowers and little bushes...," this from another new Heyday book, Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy ($45), by Bonnie J. Gisel with images by Stephen J. Joseph and a foreword by David Raines Wallace. An elegant sort of bio-scrapbook, it contains writings from Muir's nature diaries, lists and charts of flora and fauna; sketches (he could draw a glacier on a postcard), pressed plant specimens, photographs of Muir and his favorite haunts, and an illustrated, annotated gallery of plants such as the common thistle, maidenhair fern, purple-headed "Muir's Fleabane," and his beloved sequoias, "Greatest of trees, greatest of living things." Gisel's description of Muir out for a walk, stuffing his pockets with plants, is especially endearing.

*The man in full A Passion for Nature:  the Life of John Muir (Oxford University Press, $34.95), is the first comprehensive biography of Muir in 60 yrs, written by Donald Worster, a professor at the University of Kansas who launched the study of environmental history in the 1970s. Worster, appropriately, brings us Muir as one of the first environmental journalists, who in the course of writing his magazine series, "Studies in the Sierra," learned that "his method of opening others' eyes must be through scientific exploration and scientific explanation."  Then there was the fun part: "As part of that mission he went out to climb several of the highest peaks in the state..."  Worster brings to life Muir's relationships with mentors, patrons, lovers, children and friends, the latter including Teddy Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson. When we're asked to see the mountains through Muir's eyes--"His gaze swept from the fine scratching and polishing of rock surfaces by slow-moving ice to the piling up of long terminal and lateral moraines of glacial till to the carving of valleys, ridges, lake basins, and the whole jagged skyline of the Sierra"--we could be looking at  the photos in Above All. Thanks to Muir, the peaks are still there for us, unspoiled. After perusing these books, you'll want to lace on your hiking boots and experience them for yourself. 

DIY jewelry for holiday bonding

'Tis the season for togetherness, and jewelry making allows each individual a little space to do their own thing while nurturing warm-n-fuzzy feelings in a group. So gather round the table with some materials and refreshments and pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. The gifts will follow.

The easiest jewelry technique is beading. Just get some organic cotton thread and recycled glass beads and you’re in business. Long, single-strand bead necklaces are so easy a toddler can make them (but with big, noncomestible beads, pleez) and they’ve been in style since the 1920s.

If you want to branch out into earrings, bracelets, and chokers, you’ll need the right tools and some basic knowledge. For more sophisticated accessories, try mixing up your beaded creations with found objects, broken jewelry, or even seeds and feathers. Craftbits is full of instructions and patterns for turning broken or found jewelry into your own signature bling, as is and of course, Martha Stewart.

Men can get in on the action, too. Every surfer, beach bum and college activist needs his hand-woven hemp jewelry. Hemp can be bought at most craft stores, or online from Hemp Sisters or Global Hemp Store. So make your list, check it twice, and remember, hand-made is always nice, so check out the following:

More holiday DIY projects from Plenty:

*Ornaments with a surprise inside: Craft this new take on the traditional “advent” calendar for Christmas or Hanukkah!

*An easy-to-make,elegant (and economical)green wreath.

*Wrap your jewelry and other gifts in recycled, hand-decorated paper

*Another group activity: origami gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.

 By Rachel Brown

DIY green holiday wreath

Greet your guests with a festive handmade wreath on your front door. It’s a deceptively simple, as well as inexpensive, way to decorate for the holidays, especially if you can use some recycled materials and greens clipped from the yard. Or, when you go to buy your Christmas tree, keep any branches the vendor trims from the bottom, and ask if you can have any extra leavings (they'll probably be glad to just give it to you.) This project also makes for a great party:  Gather a few friends and some eggnog and have an afternoon of wreath making. Fa-la-la! Continue reading DIY green holiday wreath

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